1923 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140
Yumewokatare...this little restaurant is a really polarizing place. Hop on over to Yelp and read some reviews. Some people absolutely love it. Other people hate it. The first time I went, I said I'd never wait again for 1.5 hours in the cold for a bowl of ramen. But I've been back two times since then...
If you haven't heard about this place yet (what rock are you sleeping under?), it's a small - and when I say small, I mean it - ramen shop located near Porter Square in Cambridge. The restaurant seats no more than 15 people, although the current table arrangement is extremely poor and could actually fit more. There's a bar area overlooking the ramen chef doing his thing, and then there's a large table where diners sit family style. You'll likely sit next to a stranger.
Ah......but I'm getting ahead of myself. There's the whole experience you enjoy even before you step foot into the restaurant. The restaurant opens at 5 (or is it 5:30? they keep changing the operating hours), and even before that, rabid ramen fanatics start lining up in anticipation of the opening. It's really nuts. Consider this is also in the middle of winter with freezing temperatures, blowing winds, and the occassional falling snow. If you arrive late, and by that, I mean anytime after the true opening, you're screwed and in for a long ass wait.
Each time I come to this place, I go through this whole range of emotions. We leave the house excited for some ramen, only to arrive to a huge line, leaving us disappointed and a bit depressed. I then get into an argument with my wife after yelling at her for taking so long to get ready. "You want to go somewhere else? Where should we go?" Then after a while of dicking around, we finally give in and just agree to wait. The line usually starts at the Dunkin Donuts, and slowly...ever so slowly...painfully slowly...you make your way closer to the...window. At that point, maybe you've waited an hour or so already, and you're really pissed and frustrated at this point. I usually glare at the diners slurping away at their soup and noodles, hoping they get uncomfortable and finish up quickly. Once I was really irritated by a girl I spotted, daintily eating her ramen, individual noodle by individual noodle, taking her sweet ass time. Hurry up, dammit! After my wife reminds me that we're almost at the front, I calm down a bit.
After waiting for about 1.5 hours, you finally get to the door...and then eventually the staff lets you in. Hooray! I never thought it'd be so damn hard to get a bowl of ramen. When you arrive, you place your order. Not hard deciding what you want - only ramen here that comes in two sizes - large and extra large. Seriously. It's a huge bowl of noodles, vegetables, and either 2 pieces of pork belly or 5. I always go with the 5 piecer, the buta ramen.
After a few more minutes (what's another a few minutes of waiting after you've already waited a few hours?), this rolls up:
At this point, there's nothing else to do but dive right in. Slurp up some of the delicious pork broth seasoned with tare. Enjoy some fatty, unctuous pork belly that melts in your mouth. Mix it up with some steamed cabbage and bean sprouts. Shovel in some of the fresh, homemade noodles. Wash, rinse, and repeat until it's all gone. Most people are pansies and can't finish. I finish. Always.
So...could it really be that good? Worth an 1.5 hour wait in the cold? Worth waiting outside looking like a chump as people walk by and stare at you, curious as to why you and 20 other chumps are lining up in front of this building?
Yes and no. I'll be the first to admit that the line is ridiculous. I don't think anyone should have to wait an 1.5-2 hours for food...But that bowl of ramen is magical. Some people complain that the soup is too greasy, the pork is too fatty, the noodles are too thick, it's too expensive for a bowl of ramen, yadda yadda yadda. If you want something healthy, go eat some grass. You can also kindly ask the chef to leave the chopped pork fatback out of your soup. As for the noodles, I never liked the instant ramen noodles that came out of a bag. If you want to eat noodles with no texture or chew, keep eating the crappy instant variety. The broth, easily the most difficult part to get right with any ramen, is awesome. Go try making ramen yourself. I have. It's HARD. It takes a long time and the right combination of pork parts, seasoning and aromatics to get it right. I'll gladly pay $14 dollars for what Yumewokatare is offering.
Yumewokatare also uses something unique that gives their broth an interesting flavor you don't typically find. It reminds me alot of this pork dish my mom used to make for me as a kid using Chinese fermented soy beans, or what the Chinese call "men-cee". I kind of doubt the chef uses this since he's Japanese, so perhaps it's natto that is used, which I believe is somewhat similar. It could also be something in the tare but I would think that that's more straight forward and likely a combination of soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar.
In any case, I kind of dodged the question of whether it's really worth it or not. I hate waiting in that line and I probably mutter a few dozen curse words during the night, but for some reason, I always keep going back. My vote with my feet says it all.